Written by Blake Bowen
Heckler & Koch SL8 Sporting Rifle
By Blake Bowen
© Sniper's Paradise 1999
In recent years numerous laws have impeded the import of semi-automatic rifles. Whether passed by congress as law, or by executive order of the President. Heckler & Koch (H&K) in particular has had few civilian rifles available in the past few years. Those who wished to own a H&K would have to compete with other buyers for a pre-owned sample. This has recently changed with the introduction of the SL8-1.
The SL8 was born out of the G36 assault rifle. Both rifles look very different on the outside, but internally both are very similar in operating system and controls. The G36 was developed using synthetic materials throughout, and took a departure from previous H&K rifles in its action. The G36 abandoned the delayed- blowback and roller-locking of previous designs. Instead the G36 uses a gas system similar to the Armalite AR-18 in operation. This gas system is a very robust in design, and is not as susceptible to gas fouling as the M16 type gas system. The Armalite type gas system does not allow combustion gasses into the receiver, and thus stays much cleaner. The G36 also employs synthetic materials throughout its construction, and is probably the only military rifle in use using a receiver constructed of synthetic materials. (Yes, I am aware that other rifles using this construction exist) The bolt assembly and barrel comprise the majority of the metal components of this rifle. This type of construction has resulted in a lightweight and reliable weapon that does not require a great deal of maintenance. The G36 is currently in use by the German Bundeswehr and other forces in several different configurations.
The SL8-1 is basically a civilian version of the G36, but with several notable departures. First, in order to meet import regulation the SL8-1 is equipped with a unique thumbhole stock. The stock is finished in a light gray color, and features an adjustable cheek piece and buttstock. The stock is very radical in appearance, and has been greeted favorably by many shooters. An adjustment tool is included with each rifle. Second, the barrel on the SL8-1 is a heavy contour 1x7 twist barrel. The barrel floats from the receiver on out through the removable forend. The barrel appears to be chrome lined, and this is a welcome feature to most of us. Third, the SL8-1 uses a unique magazine common to no other rifle. The magazine will accept up to 10 rounds of .223 Rem. (5.56mm NATO) ammunition. The magazine is a single stack design, and is constructed of a translucent material. The magazine is a little hard to load, until the user becomes familiar with the proper procedure. Unfortunately, no high capacity magazines are available for the SL8-1, and G36 magazines will not work in the SL8-1. Lastly, the SL8-1 uses a sight rail that extends the entire sight radius. The rail is equipped with iron sights that are simple in design, but are not user friendly in their adjustment. The sight rail has numerous positions available for the installation of optical sights and other devices. H&K has several different modular sighting systems available as accessories, but none were available for review at this time. The most notable is a dual optical system with a 3.5X scope and a red dot sight, and the Universal Tactical Light of USP pistol fame is also available for attachment to the SL8-1.
On the range
Several different shooters fired the SL8-1 informally, and there were no glaring defects reported. The most common complaints were the size of the grip being a little too small for some shooters, and the location of the safety selector. Otherwise, the rifle seems to be laid out nicely, and the ability to adjust the butt stock and cheek piece is an added plus. Also, the ambidextrous cocking lever was a nice addition to right and left-handed shooters alike. The SL8-1 turned out to be a good shooter. The open sights turned out to be the factor limiting group size. The sights are too coarse for true precision work. (The front site covers about four inches at 100 yards) The rifle produced groups hovering around 1" at 100 yards, and did not have a preference for a particular bullet weight. The SL8-1 would most certainly produce groups well under 1 MOA with quality optics installed, however all testing to date has been conducted with thestandard issue sights. I had anticipated the 1x7 twist barrel to prefer heavier projectiles, but the Nosler 55gr Ballistic Tip produced the same group size as 69gr Sierra Match King. The installation of optics will be necessary to evaluate the full accuracy potential of the SL8-1 further.
SL8-1 Bolt Assembly
After the range session was completed, another benefit of the SL8-1 became noticeable. The bolt and chamber area of the rifle showed little signs of fouling. All that was needed to clean the bolt assembly was a rag, wet with solvent. The gas system does not allow any contaminants into the action and therefore eliminates the majority of the "gunk" that we have become used to in M16 type firearms. I do not know how long this gun would go before cleaning was required, but it would take a large amount of ammunition to find out.
Caliber .223 Rem
Action Type Gas Operated, short stroke piston, rotary locking bolt
Sights Adjustable iron sights, with Mil-Std rail available for attachment of additional devices.
Barrel 20.8 in, 1x7 right hand twist
Overall Length 38.6 in
Weight 8.6 lb.
As they saying goes " If you have the means to acquire one, I highly recommend it". The price is the only factor that may keep some consumers from purchasing a SL8-1. With these rifles selling for $1800-2000, one could purchase most any AR-15 type rifle, and live happily ever after. However, for those who want something a little different a H&K SL8-1 might be something to take a look at.